tonight on "nightline," after nearly 40 years behind bars, an inmate convicted of a double murder is walking out of prison a free man. the twisted story of an angry ex-wife, a high stakes he said, she said, and the decades long search for justice. all about cooper. "the happeningover" made him a star. and tonight, bradley cooper tells us what made him take on a risky new role. and, standing up for heroes. bruce springsteen helps pay tribute to our wounded warriors. i'll follow one kur ray use warrior on a path to face a new reality. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," november 8th, 2012. >> good evening, i'll bill weir.
well, today in arizona, a 77-year-old man took his first free breath in 38 years. of course, people leave prison every day in this country, but what makes this moment extraordinary are the twists and turns that preceded it. the double homicide, the exwife's accusations, the desperate decades spent trying to prove innocence. abc's dan harris has been following this story for years, and brings us the very latest in this "nightline" investigates. >> reporter: you are looking at bill macumber's first breaths of freedom, after serving 38 years for a double murder he says he did not commit. >> big day, family day. >> reporter: this scene, the culmination of an astonishingly nasty fight between macumber and two powerful women. his ex-wife and also the governor of arizona. late today, at his first news conference, macumber cried when talking about the lawyers who fought to get him out. >> excuse me, excuse the
emotion, but -- i'm here because of all these people. so -- i wouldn't be here without them. >> reporter: in the 1970s, macumber was convicted of killing two young adults and leaving their bodies in the arizona desert. we first started covering this story in 2010, when we met bill ma come berp's son, ron, who had been raised to believe his dad was a monster. not long before we met him, though, ron got a call from a lawyer with the arizona justice project, which works to free innocent inmates. >> he says, there's no other way to tell you think. we think your father's innocent and we're pretty sure your mom framed him for it. >> reporter: at the time of the arrest, the marriage was falling apart. and carol was working at the local sheriff's office, where she had access to the evidence. >> i don't have any doubt anymore. that my mom did this. that my mom framed my dad. >> reporter: did you frame your husband? >> no. absolutely not. >> reporter: back in 2010, we
managed to track down ron's mother, carol kempfert, at her home in olympia, washington. >> i didn't just wake up one morning, saying i'll frame my husband today. i'll be happy to take a polygraph. i did not tamper with any evidence. >> reporter: the notion that your son would say that you're capable of acting in such a diabolical fashion is -- it's a damning statement. >> ron -- boy, i don't know if i want to get into this. ron always has been a follower. >> reporter: you think he's gullible? >> critical thinking is not one of ron's better skills. what can i say? and if anyone was ever made for bill to mold and manipulate, it would be ron. >> let's say my father is manipulating me. explain to me how he's been manipulating the arizona justice project and everybody that
believes in his innocence and is fighting to get him out. >> reporter: there was another group that believed bill ma come berp's story. the arizona clemency board, which, in a rare move, unanimously recommended his sentence be commuted, saying, an injustice has been done. the board pointed out that another man, ernesto valuen sway la con veszed to the murders. even though governor jan brewer had hand picked the members of the clemency board, she rejected their recommendation and refused to speak about it with us or the family. >> governor, my name is dan harris, i'm from abc news. so, ron and i showed up at one of her press conferences. >> why won't you release him? >> well, you know, it's an unfortunate situation that governors have to make difficult decisions regardless of what recommendations are made to them. i appreciate your concern but i've made my decision and it's final. >> all right, guys -- >> reporter: executive clemency board, this is your board. why wouldn't you follow the
recommendation of your own board, governor? is there political motive here on your port? desire not to look soft on crime, per se? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: but then macumber's lawyers launched a last ditch effort to clear his name in court. an effort so strong that prosecutors finally agreed to offer macumber a plea deal and the judge set him free. >> mr. macumber, good luck to you, sir. >> thank you, your honor. >> reporter: at his new conference today, macumber marvelled at how the outside world had so utterly changed and talked about his first hours of freedom. >> i allowed myself one beer. after 38 years. i was a little bit hesitant to go beyond that point. >> we just hugged each other. there was nothing to be said. this is what we've been -- i can't say it enough, this is what we've been waiting for. >> reporter: macumber was asked about governor brewer. >> can't say something nice about somebody, don't say nothing at all. so, with your permission, i'll say nothing at all.
>> reporter: we tried to get a comment from the governor, but her spokesman did not respond. we did speak with carol kempfert. >> my first reaction was -- i just -- i didn't believe it. >> reporter: who requested we con zeile her face because she recently had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. >> i can't convince people that -- that i didn't frame 4i78. they are going to believe whatever it is they're going to believe. but i'm here to tell you, they just let a double murderer out. >> reporter: today, macumber said both of those things are untrue. >> i never hear her name again, that's fine. >> reporter: at 77 and in failing health, it is unclear how much time he has left. but today, at least, it did not seem like bill macumber would spend his newfound freedom wallowing in bitterness. >> justice, however late, is still justice. >> reporter: for "nightline," this is dan harris in new york. >> what a story. thanks to dan for that.
coming up next, from "hangover" hero to hollywood a-list. bradley cooper, on the pressure of being named sexiest man alive. [ abdul-rashid ] i've been working since i was about 16. you know, one job or the other. the moment i could access the retirement plan, i just became firm about it -- "i'm done. i'm out of here." you know, it's like it just hits you fast. you know, you start thinking about what's really important here. ♪ ♪ it's the cleanest, clearest water. we find the best, sweetest crab for red lobster that we can find. [ male announcer ] hurry in to red lobster's crabfest! the only time of year you can savor 5 succulent crab entrees,
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tell your doctor if you're prone to infections, have cuts or sores, have had hepatitis b, have been treated for heart failure, or if, while on enbrel, you experience persistent fever, bruising, bleeding, or paleness. if you've had enough, ask your dermatologist about enbrel. >> announcer: "nightline" continues from new york city with bill weir. >> seems poetic, i suppose, that a guy who started acting with a tiny bit sport on "sex and the city" should be sexiest man alive. it took an epic hangover in between to push bradley cooper into the a-list. and now that he's there, he's anxious to bust the typecasting mold, prove his chops. here's abc's chris connelly with the "nightline" interview. >> hut, hut! hike! >> reporter: odds are you know bradley cooper from his work in
such r-rated come dims at request "wedding crashers" and "the hangover 1 and 2." the bachelor party, the whole night, things got out of control. >> for me, "hangover" was a huge shift in terms of being recognized more and having more opportunity. but the truth is, it's been such a sort of slow incredit am growth for me. in this business. >> reporter: because while you can see cooper now on magazine covers, or squiring stunning actresses in the tabloids or promoting his movies in french, this son of a stockbroker, raised with his sister outside philadelphia, didn't act until he years at georgetown. and wasn't ticketed for the a-list. >> i have never walked through my life having to deal with, oh, he's just too good looking. was not the handsome [ bleep ], you know? a lot of the feedback was, brad, what a nice guy. he's just, yeah.
no edge. just not go edge. i was bummed out by that. >> reporter: in fact, set the way back machine to 2002 and you'll find his first hollywood role, alongside jennifer garner in "alias." >> what i said before about not trusting you -- >> don't worry about it. >> reporter: everybody loved will tippen. >> not when he was on there. >> reporter: back then, cooper would check out those newfangled "alias" message boards. even now, he hasn't forgotten what they were saying. >> who is this guy? he needs to take a shower and god please don't let sydney wind up with him. i was like, oh, my god. next thing you nope, "the new york times" does an article on mesle saj boards and cites my character as a hated character. >> can't somebody say, let's be positive, let's have a good ending. >> reporter: now, a decade later at 37, he's going deep. >> how is your thing going? dancing thing? >> it's good. how is your restraining order?
>> i wouldn't call that my thing. >> reporter: starring alongside jennifer lawrence in what could be career altering roles for them both in "silver linings playbook." >> i'm from philadelphia, i'm italian and irish, i'm a huge eagles fan and his parents are like my parents in many ways but i thought, i'm not right for this. >> reporter: despite all the parallels from your own life? >> i think it was fear. >> everything good? >> yeah. i never had to cry on film. >> reporter: he does that and lot more as straight out of the asylum, pat. all too eager to win back his wife and joust with his father. >> she's gone. she's not around anymore. nicky left. >> reporter: the film is being buzzed about for end of year awards but to some minds, cooper's already enjoyed the ultimate acclaim. while shooting the movie, he was named "people's" sexiest man alive. >> we were in between shots and i did think it was a joke. and then i thought, people aren't going to like that.
>> reporter: you are the only sexiest man alive whose selection was ever picketed. >> exactly. >> reporter: outside "people" magazine offices. what are the key features of your reign? >> actually petitioned myself to see if -- usually there's a cutoff. i wanted to make it two years. >> reporter: a two-year reign? >> that's what i was hoping, yeah, like bloomberg. i think it makes everybody else feel better. if this is the sexiest man, i'm doing well. >> reporter: his unexpected stature in this unlikely career as an even more impossible origin. a female student at his high school whom he vowed somehow to follow to georgetown. >> they had the yearbook where they would say where everybody is going. and 18 dots and then georgetown university. and i thought, oh, that sounds right. >> reporter: but he was rejected. a year later, he tried again. and got in. >> i ran downstairs, my father,
we were so happy. >> reporter: wow. >> huge thing. it was a huge lesson, don't give up. >> reporter: his time there would lead him to his life's ambition. acting. >> let me tell you something, you don't nope anything about my marriage, okay, dad? >> reporter: and eventually to a blessing of sorts from his once skeptical father. who died last year. >> when he saw my thesis, i still remember it, which was the el fephant man, offwards, he sa, you have to do this for your living, you know? and i saw the switch happen. >> reporter: what's that like? >> it was awesome. yeah. it was amazing. that was -- it was incredible. >> reporter: i'm chris connelly for "nightline" in los angeles. >> as "silver linings playbook" opens november 2 1s, thanks to chris connelly. just ahead, bruce springsteen's musical salute to our wounded warriors and one man's incredible resilience. you have to meet this guy, next. [ male announcer ] how can power consumption in china,
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♪ we take care of our own ♪ wherever the flag flows ♪ we take care of our own >> the boss came over from jersey tonight to help take care of our own. he's a lock to play the stand up for heroes event, founded by abc's own bob woodruff, after his wounds in iraq introduced him to so many warriors. joining bob and bruce on stage tonight, one marine who stands as a warm and funny reminder of how much we all owe them and what it really takes to get on
with life after war. >> i like this one because it's got iraq on it and i can show people, i got blown up -- there. it helps. >> reporter: if you met aaron mankin on the street, you might notice the injured hands, few facial cars. and if he was in marine uniform, you'd might guess he'd seen some pain, but you would have no idea. did you know you were on fire? >> oh, yeah, yeah. i was aware. >> reporter: you'd have no idea that an iraqi ied set him on fire, scorched his lungs, took his ear and burned half of his handsome face to the skull. >> i rolled and roll and sooid stop and check my progress and look at my hands, still on fire, r roll and roll, stop and check and got to the point where i had, exhausted myself, trying to extinguish myself and just closed my eyes and waited to die. >> reporter: he'd have no idea thanks in part to some of the
best plastic surgeons in southern california, doctors and nurses who donated their skills to ucla's operation mend. aaron was there first attempt to put a broken warrior back together. how many surgeries? >> ah, nearly 60. >> reporter: 60. >> yeah. >> reporter: they did amazing work. >> thank you. >> reporter: but the bomb was only one life altering moment in iraq. it was there he met a fellow marine named diana and fell in love. three months after his injury, they reunited and 15 seconds later, he proposed. and as he healed, they had a son and a daughter. and then diana had an affair. and a child with another man and then she left. do you have custody of your children? >> i do. >> reporter: you're raising them? >> i am. >> reporter: why did she leave? >> it takes a strength of character, for me to get through what i've been through and she didn't have it.
>> reporter: and yet, you'd still have no idea this pain. those who came to the beacon tonight might remember roger waters, do a little pink floyd with the band of warriors. ♪ so ♪ so you think you can tell >> reporter: or the antics of ricky gervais, but they will never forget aaron. and how his fellow marines put out his flames, put him on a stretcher and promptly dropped him in the dirt. >> not being wounded from the waist down, i figured, well, i'll stand up and walk. so, i get up and i start walking towards t towards, hey, no, lay down, we got you, you're in shock. i'm shocked that you dropped me. [ laughter ] marine get a morphine iv? >> reporter: and his job now? to remind all of us how our national love is appreciated by every single veteran. a mission that makes his folks so proud. >> they've all earned the
gratitude of our nation. and our citizens. and like aaron said, if he didn't serve, you know, serve those who did -- >> reporter: that's right. >> for your support, i thank you and -- [ applause ] and for your service, i salute you. >> it was an honor to meet you, aaron. if you'd like to serve those who served, you can visit remind.org, to find out how. thank you for watching abc news. we do hope you check in with "good morning america." they'll be working while you rest. we are always online at abcnews.com. and we'll see you back here tomorrow. have a great night. up next on an